Tuesday, June 20th, 2006
Sanford Shapiro looks at The Monarch School
Ã‚Â© 2006 Sanford Shapiro
The Monarch School, a unique K-12 day school, divided into two campuses within a half a mile of each other, and resides in a quieter Houston suburb. I call this a unique school because of the population it serves. In operation as a school since 1998, Monarch puts its emphasis on educating students who have complex learning disabilities. It describes itself as a therapeutic day school and it is. The school puts its focus in four areas of competencies: executive functions, academic, social development and emotional regulation. At first glance that might not necessarily tell you anything. However when you see the kids and the faculty interact, you get it. What you see and understand is that this is a school for kids whose are weak in social reasoning, have deficits with the mechanics and behavioral regulation/control associated with kids with Asperger’s Syndrome, show sensory integration weaknesses, and/or significant organization and attention control problems.
The impression I got of this school is of a successful blending of strong scientific, evidenced or research based psychological expertise, and great educational heart. When I say educational heart I mean that all through school there is ample display of faculty paying close attention to what kids are saying, both verbally and behaviorally, really listening. There’s lots of flexibility of response built into a clearly defined level system. That sounds like opposites but it isn’t in this case. For example, they view conflict stemming from a communication breakdown. Steps to resolve conflicts are taught to faculty and students that support this view, along with clearly articulated 14 learner-centered goals from the American Psychological Association. However, surrounding all that are a whole bunch of adults who listen well and seem to know how to be personable yet good boundary setters.
The school is divided into two campuses that reflect the level system that is used. Students may be categorized as moving upwards from Novice to Apprentice to Challenger and to Voyager. The Novice and Apprentice kids were situated on a separate wooded campus and tended to be younger kids with greater needs for smaller environments. Classes are self-contained. When students move to the Challenger and Voyager levels on the campus down the road, students move out of a self-contained group and into a more individualized and somewhat more independent environment.
To respond to the needs of their students there are two psychologists on each campus and there is a substantial level of on-going faculty training. Most notable in this area is the three weeks of in-service work that goes on prior to classes beginning in the fall. In my travels in differing regions of the country this stands as remarkable.
In 1998 when the school opened, Monarch had 23 students. Currently there are 85 students with 40 staff members. The vision of the school includes growth to 200 students on a new site.
One of their students who did well went on to Franklin Academy (boarding school in CT, previously written about on this site) and indeed, I can see some overlap and crossover of student profile between the two schools. Additionally there is a strong component of parent education and support and is considered a very important part of a child’s education at Monarch.
Finally, if you visit the school make sure you see the Life Academy, combination of student run business programs and the continuation of the therapeutic support.
Related at this site: The Monarch School